The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced No Child Left Behind and reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, presents an opportunity to continue making progress towards educational equity and excellence for all. For the first time, the reauthorization of the nation’s defining elementary and secondary education law explicitly supports a preschool to college- and career-readiness vision for America’s students. It also creates the flexibility for states, districts, and educators to reclaim the promise of a quality, well-rounded education for every student while maintaining the protections that ensure our commitment to every child — particularly by identifying and reporting the academic progress of all of our students and by guaranteeing meaningful action is taken in our lowest performing schools and school with low performance among subgroups of students.
To realize this promise, states should engage meaningfully with a wide range of stakeholders to create a common vision of educational opportunity and accountability. This engagement can take many forms and still be successful. Regardless of the form, however, to be meaningful it must be wide-spread, inclusive, ongoing, and characterized by true collaboration. For the law to work we need all those who have a stake in our education system to have a seat at the table as states are making their plans.
While many states are still contemplating how to move forward, several have launched stakeholder engagement processes to start determining how to develop the best education systems for students in their states, and to explore the new flexibilities and opportunities within ESSA. Some have committees chaired by senior state officials working to develop plans for accountability systems, school interventions, and assessment systems, among other elements of the law. Others have solicited input more broadly and are taking a grass-roots approach to beginning their planning.
Although each state will ultimately pursue an engagement strategy that works for its local context, the work of others, and the guidance and tools that national education organizations have created for state and local government officials and stakeholders, may prove useful in devising those strategies. Here are a few examples of states and their unique approaches:
- There is grassroots engagement afoot in Pennsylvania, where Education Secretary Rivera has held a series of stakeholder sessions at the local level, creating working groups focusing on core issues of the law – e.g. accountability and assessment – to better allow citizens throughout the Commonwealth to engage on specific issues within the ESSA law. These working groups are comprised of a wide array of stakeholders including teachers, principals, community based organizations, education non-profits, businesses and higher education institutions.
- Strong executive leadership is the highlight of Alabama’s outreach strategy, where the Governor established a committee through an executive order to lead the development of the ESSA state plan. This ESSA Implementation Committee includes representatives from across the education community, including parents, educators, superintendents, school board members, school leaders, state Department of Education officials, and education policy advocates. In addition to the meetings of the committee itself, the chair and vice chair are holding subcommittee meetings on a variety of topics (including accountability, early learning, and standards and assessments), and plan to host public forums so local leaders and members of the public have an opportunity to weigh in on the development of the state plan. A full list of committee members, along with meeting dates, times, and locations, is available here. The Committee is also soliciting feedback and comments from the general public through an online webform.
- The Colorado Department of Education created an ESSA working group and in May led listening sessions in different regions of the state to gather input from stakeholders such as parents and teachers. The ESSA working group committees will utilize this information from the sessions to develop the state plan that will ultimately be approved by the Colorado State Board of Education.
As states continue to refine their plans it is important that citizens, civil rights groups, parents, educators and many more stakeholders become involved in the state and local level conversations on how to best implement ESSA both initially and in the months and years to come. Here are some highlights of the tools national organizations have created to help their members create a thoughtful and inclusive engagement plan:
- The Council of Chief State School Officers and more than 15 partnership organizations: ESSA Stakeholder Engagement Guide
- Learning First Alliance Principles on Consultation and Stakeholder Engagement: Stakeholder Engagement ESSA
- National School Boards Association: ESSA
- National Parent Teacher Association: Resources for Families on implementing ESSA
- ED Trust: ESSA: What’s in it? What does it mean for Equity?
- Coalition for Community Schools: Stakeholder Engagement
- Urban League: ESSA Toolkit
- National Association of Secondary School Principals: Learn the issues ESSA
- American Federation of Teachers: ESSA Facts
We look forward to supporting state and local leaders as they work to engage their constituents in developing high quality implementation plans that provide every student with a high quality world class education. For additional information, please read Secretary King’s Dear Colleague Letter to state and local leaders that highlights additional engagement materials developed by the U.S. Department of Education.
Lindsay O’Mara is Deputy Assistant Secretary for State and Local Engagement at the U.S. Department of Education.